The Ham Radio in Hawaii Page

"Break Tags" for emergency communications
revised: Aug 2007

Date:  12 August 2007

Hello Everyone,

On June 28th, 2004 after one of our events, the Seaway Run in Muskegon, Michigan, my friends and I came up with a solution for a problem that has plagued us for years. When communications get heavy, someone listening may have a short solution to a problem that is taking up too much valuable airtime and can't get into the net to share their solution. We came up with some neat little tools to address that issue. They are called Break Tags. When we are operating under a controlled net, we are trained not to break in unless there is an emergency. The only exception to that rule is to just throw out our call sign, which usually gets us put on hold, sitting there in frustration with the answer to a question that is resulting in unnecessary chatter.

There are currently seven one word Break Tags. They are: info, answer, question, priority, medical, emergency and your call sign. Most of these tags were used with great success for the first time at the 2004 Muskegon Air Fair.

Here is how they are used. Instead of saying 'break' in between transmissions during a directed net you use a single word Break Tag without your call sign. They are to be used only when your traffic will be appreciated by net control and results in more efficient communications. They are to be used wisely, as if Net Control is familiar with the use of Break Tags they will stop the current exchange and turn over the net to the breaker. The message that follows a break should be as short as possible.  If the tags are used improperly the Net Control operator may not treat them as designed and instead decide to treat them as simply a call sign, which defeats the purpose of the Tags.  Break Tags are also handy when there is not a net in progress if a third person has something useful or important to transmit on the frequency in use.  Here is the list of commonly used tags.  This list is not all-inclusive as any single word that conveys the meaning of the break efficiently may be used.  Along with the list, it is important to realize that the use of single word break tags is a technique, as well. 

When using Break Tags be sure you properly identify your communications as required by Part 97.

Here is the list of commonly used Break Tags:

Info: To be used to indicate you have information of interest to add, sometimes used to indicate you have an answer to a question asked on the air. It is preferable to use 'Answer' if more appropriate but not necessary as ‘Answer’ is the more precise of the two Tags.  Info has become the most popular tag and has almost become the ‘generic’ Break Tag.  Although ‘Info’ is most often used pertaining to the subject currently being discussed, it may also be used to pass information such as a net about to start or a traffic jam or road closure.

Answer: To be used when you have the answer to a question currently being discussed on the air.

Question: To be used when the answer of a question can't wait, for instance when the Mayor is standing next to you and you are asked to get some information and you need to use the frequency to obtain it.  Another use of ‘Question’ would be to ask when a meeting being discussed is going to start, provided you can’t wait for some reason until the communication breaks on it’s own for you.

Priority: To be used to report an important but non-life threatening situation such as a fender-bender that just happened.

Medical: To be used to report a minor medical incident that affects the operator in some way, like having to leave his or her post for a few minutes to walk someone with a minor cut over to a med tent.

Emergency: Only to be used to report an ongoing life or property threatening or damaging incident.

Your Call Sign: An indication that you have traffic that can wait and does not require the stoppage of the ongoing exchange. This tag is an expectation to be put on hold and in queue for your transmission.

This method takes very little training. Its use is contagious and comes very naturally. I hope that everyone adopts it. I would like to hear if other groups try it and how it works. It will be a part of our communications from here on in.

(Modified 12 August, 2007)


Mark Derby, K8MHZ

Instructor, Muskegon Area Amateur Radio Council's Continuing Education Program
Journeyman Electrician, Licensed in the State of Michigan

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